Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Dust Bowl Overalls?

I love these baby overalls. They are classic, sturdy, and adorable. Perfect for little toddlers like Baby Boy Joe, right? Love 'em, love 'em.

Here's my beef. This model is named "Dust Bowl Blue Overalls." As in, you know, the Dust Bowl. The period of severe drought and dust storms that caused significant ecological and agricultural damage to American prairie lands between 1930 and 1936. Dust storms which were caused by a combination of drought and almost a century of bad farming practices.

As in, the event that caused huge numbers of hard-working people to lose their land, livelihood, and homes.

As in, the cause of unfathomable loss and heartache.

According to Wikipedia, "Millions of acres of farmland became useless, and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes; many of these families (often known as 'Okies,' since so many came from Oklahoma) traveled to California and other states, where they found economic conditions little better than those they had left. Owning no land, many traveled from farm to farm picking fruit and other crops at starvation wages."

As in, this:

Or, dear God, this:

 So Osh Kosh B'Gosh, purveyor of sturdy children's clothing that I otherwise love, is using nostalgia for a terrible natural and human disaster to sell baby clothes?

What next, Hurricane Katrina jammies?

To be totally fair, I don't really have a problem with using nostalgia to sell clothing. I like these overalls because they are styled like classic farmers' overalls. I freely admit that their "retro" appearance is a big part of the appeal to me. I probably wouldn't have minded if the model name referenced the 1930s in any other way. I found the direct reference to the Dust Bowl, however, to be jarring.

(And you want to know the worst part? I bought some damn overalls. I know. I'm so drinking the Koolaid here! I won't try to defend myself: you can see the combination of cuteness, durability, and functionality. But change the name!)

What do y'all think? Is this kind of disturbing, or am I making too much of it?


  1. Absolutely, definitely disturbing, and I am 100 percent with you. I have to wonder whether the company is relying on our weak collective historical knowledge in this particular sales tactic. Because for many of us, our knowledge of the Dust Bowl has faded to a vague memory of quaint black and white photos. Thanks for bringing us back to reality. I wonder how we can get the manufacturers to pay attention?

  2. Yeah, creepy. There's obviously a long tradition of capitalizing on disasters. Some of which I can totally get behind - disaster ballads, anyone? Art sells but it also adds to our cultural memory. And ok, fashion can be art. But this is not it.

  3. Rebecca, I actually thought through that whole thing. I'm like, "Well, I love bluegrass music. I enjoyed 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Don't those capitalize on the Depression, too?"

    In conclusion, I decided it's not the same. First of all, it's different to commemorate the dust bowl than it is to use it to sell overalls. Like you said, not art. Also, baby Dust Bowl overalls tend to minimize the whole experience, whereas disaster ballads keep the memory alive.

    Anyway, that was my reasoning. I'm cool with all kinds of nostalgia for the Depression, but this just seems crass.

  4. In conclusion, it's only ok to sell dust bowl overalls if you include a copy of Bound for Glory with each purchase.

  5. It is disturbing and a little bit funny too just because it's so typical of the fashion industry. Starving is super chic. Starving kids... uuuuuhhh terrible terrible.

    But I do love my boy in overalls. Garsh, they're just so practical. Esecially since my mom sewed up those stupid inseams full of snaps for us so that little man's cloth diapers stop busting open his pants. I hate those snappy inseams.

  6. Betsy: Good idea about the inseams! I always buy a size up and end up rolling up pants forever and ever, just to accommodate the giant cloth diaper butt and the extra-long torso length that it creates. So I ordered 24 month sized overalls for my 12-18 mo. sized kid. Maybe if I sewed up the inseam, they would last longer?

    Question: Do you find it's hard to change diapers if you have to pull it down from the top or whatever?

  7. I think it's a little weird, for sure. Although I might also buy the overalls. In the end, I'm more concerned with function than the name. All the same, they could have chosen much better, I agree.

  8. Wow. Dust Bowl Baby Chic. What the hell world do we live in?

    I totally agree with you!
    Besides--why do they have to call them anything other than "denim overalls"?

  9. Got the overalls today! Serious cuteness, with pictures to follow, I'm sure (been too busy this week to photograph several projects and thus blog is languishing). But sure enough, at the 24 month size, the legs are enormously long, and have to be rolled up, and the torso BARELY fits my long waisted boy, even with the overall straps fully taken out.

    Also, Betsy, you are so right. The crotch snaps are terrible, and tend to come undone on their own.

    Some modifications may be in order. I am considering adding a little strappage at the top to accommodate the long waist + cloth diapers, sewing up the inseam, and deepening the hem (which could be let out later). My hope is that I can get these overalls to fit the bambino for a LONG TIME.

    Now THAT is some Depression-era thriftiness worth being nostalgic over!

  10. i dont' know if you remember my theory, but i was at a gillian welch show in LA, and struck by all the 30-s white people there in her thrall, and it was the height of w bushism, and i theorized that that type of music (o brother included) allows a kind of alternate fantasy of whiteness that's more benevolent and, well, victimized. rather than victimizing/empire-building. i'd maybe put dust bowl overalls into that mix too. socialist america of the 30s? not really, but it's there. anyway, this stuff is all complicated!

  11. E, I remembered the "benevolent" aspect of that theory, but I had forgotten the "victimized rather than victimizing" aspect ... really good point, that. Of course, I'm also drinking that Koolaid in a major way. Sigh.


I love comments! I do my very best to respond to comments, by email or here, although I am often running late. I also try to follow and comment on my regular readers' blogs. So please let me know you were here!